I love the Apple Watch’s new offline maps tools – but it won’t replace my Garmin

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Jun 19, 2024

watchOS 11, the next free software update for Apple Watch users, isn’t officially out until September. However, there’s plenty of new features to talk about in more detail, such as the new offline maps and route creation features. 

At last, you can now create custom circular routes for city walks, hikes, runs and other activities with your iPhone, Mac or iPad, and sync them to your Apple Watch for use. Now, even if your watch is offline or away from your phone, the map is still very much in use, which is huge for watchOS 11.

Previously, maps had to be run through your best iPhone, even if that phone was offline, unless you had an LTE or internet-enabled watch as part of your cellphone plan. However, now you can create a roundtrip route and it’ll sync to your watch for your use, even while offline. 

One of the only things separating the Apple Watch Ultra 2 from the rest of the best running watch crowd is its lack of GPS features, specifically offline maps and turn-by-turn directions. When I used my Garmin Epix Pro for long-distance training, I would create a course in Garmin Connect – a circular route that hit the distance goal I needed to hit for that week – sync it to my watch as a GPX file, and then head outside to start my workout. 

Garmin Connect makes all this very easy to do, and even has a machine learning-powered route creation tool to create circular routes of a particular distance. Just choose where you want your loop to take you – North, South, East or West – and Garmin does all the legwork for you. 

Once the route was all synced to my watch, I would follow the arrow on my watch, which would beep at me every time I needed to hang right or left, and I could swipe up to see my speed and workout metrics at the press of a button. 

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Once the route was all synced to my watch, I would follow the arrow on my watch, which would beep at me every time I needed to hang right or left, and I could swipe up to see my speed and workout metrics at the press of a button.

Unfortunately, Apple’s circular routes aren’t directly tied to your Workout app, which is what makes the feature fall completely flat for me. I don’t think I’m an edge case in wanting to start a workout on the Workout app, such as a run or hike, and view where I’m going with a single swipe or at one touch of a button. These two workouts, particularly Hiking, should have a maps functionality built-in. 

Sure, you can see a breakdown of your route once you’re finished, but in order to see where you’re going during, you have to exit the Workout app and open the Maps app, swapping between the two whenever you need metrics or directions. As someone who frequently hikes, runs and makes use of features such as Back to Start on the best Garmin watches, having a clear separation between Maps and Workout seems crazy to me. Why would you want to follow turn-by-turn walking directions if you’re not on a hike? 

While the features released on watchOS 11 are currently in beta, they’re unlikely to change in a meaningful way as we inch closer to release, we’re just testing for bugs and glitches. Therefore, we hope Apple makes a change to more closely link Maps and Workouts on the Apple Watch 10 and later next year in watchOS 12. Otherwise, it’s going to be hard for me to justify replacing my Garmin Epix Pro with an Apple Watch for any length of time beyond testing. 

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